The Linguist

The Linguist 51,6

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 17 of 35

FEATURES A star rises in the East Mary-Jess Leaverland shot to stardom after winning the Chinese ���X-Factor���. Miranda Moore asks about her passion for Mandarin and how it has helped her career Mary-Jess Leaverland is working on her new album. Since winning the Chinese version of The X-Factor in 2009, the singer has been busy making a name for herself as a classicalpop crossover artist. But despite recording the theme tune to popular UK costume drama Downtown Abbey, performing the traditional Abide With Me at the FA Cup final in May, and countless radio and TV appearances, she has yet to reach the level of stardom that has made the likes of Katherine Jenkins and label-mate Russell Watson household names ��� in the UK, at least. But we���re here, at her agent���s offices in Soho, to talk about languages and their influence on her life, and Mary-Jess is happy to oblige ��� without so much as a passing plug for the forthcoming release. And what an impact language has had on her career! The 22-year-old soprano says she can���t remember a time when she didn���t want to be a recording artist ��� both her mother and grandmother were singers ��� but it wasn���t until she went to Nanjing, as part of a degree in Music and Chinese at the University of Sheffield, that she got her break. When she entered Min Xing Chang Fan Tian (I Want to Sing to the Stars), during the first semester of a year abroad in Jiangsu Province, she could never have imagined that millions of viewers would text-vote her to victory. ���There was a lot of piecing things together,��� she tells me. ���I didn���t know much about the show. I didn���t know how many people were watching.��� As the contest���s first foreign winner, Mary-Jess gained instant fame, with huge media interest throughout the country, giving her a taste of ���celebrity���. She returned early to the UK, signed a recording contract with Decca Records and 18 The Linguist began co-writing an Eastern-influenced debut album, Shine. Tracks include the self-penned single Glorious and Yue Guang Ai Ren, from the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, sung in English and Mandarin. On the cover, Mary-Jess holds a Chinese parasol; the music incorporates the Chinese harp, Mongolian horse-hair fiddle and Chinese flute, which she recorded in Beijing with traditional musicians. This unusual journey into the music industry seems even more unlikely when you learn that it all began with a ���mean��� languages teacher who put Mary-Jess off French at the age of 12 and wouldn���t let her swap to Spanish. Despite her pleas, promises to work hard and even DECEMBER/JANUARY tears, he refused on the grounds that she wasn���t in the top set in French. ���So I said, ���Fine, I���ll learn Chinese instead���,��� she laughs. She fell instantly in love with the language. Adversity, it seems, only makes Mary-Jess more determined. When it looked as if she would have to give up Chinese ��� they moved to Stroud and she had no way of getting home from after-school class ��� she started staying at her dad���s house one day a week. ���I absolutely loved it. There was nothing that was going to stop me,��� says Mary-Jess, who talks in superlatives ��� the words ���absolutely��� and ���amazing��� peppering the conversation. Her enthusiasm for music, Mandarin and food (surprising, given her tiny frame) are infectious. China is ���absolutely amazing���. ���If you get to go, definitely go,��� she says. Her first experience of the country was on an exchange trip to Xiamen, aged 15. Even then, her singing was the subject of press interest, with her amateur performances making headlines in the local papers. ���It was the first time I thought ���Oooh, singing in China, that would be great!������ she laughs. After GCSEs, she hit a common obstacle: there were no A-level courses in her area. But Mary-Jess was resolute. ���I just thought, ���I���ll do it at university.��� It did work out really well,��� she laughs at the understatement. Conquering China is now a big part of the dream. ���I���m hoping that I���ll be able to do two albums really, in that I���d do a fully Chinese album for the Chinese market and an English album for the English and American markets,��� she explains. ���It would be a great research project. There are so many treasures in Chinese music, it would be great if I could delve into that. They���ve got all these different proverbs and they use them in their songs.���

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Linguist - The Linguist 51,6